[conspire] Fwd: Ubuntu 6.10 [was Re: ... distro news]

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Dec 18 12:20:59 PST 2006

Quoting Tony Godshall (togo at of.net):

> I think for a lot of us, we'd much prefer a proper Free distribution
> that gives us long term security.  Call us bigots or enthusiasts, but
> the truth is elsewhere, really.

Even from the beginning, Ubuntu's installer has auto-enabled via
/etc/apt/sources.list a package collection called "restricted" 
comprising available software under proprietary but redistributable
licences.  (This is in distinction to the Official Debian installer, 
which _asks_ you if you wish to enable access to "non-free" and
"contrib" = packages that themselves are open source but depend on
others that are proprietary, but with your answer defaulting to "no".)  
However, to my knowledge, it has never installed proprietary software 
by default before[1], which starting with Feisty+1, it will (NVidia and ATI
accelerated video drivers, sundry winmodem drivers, Atheros madwifi, and 
an Intel 3945 wireless driver): https://wiki.ubuntu.com/AcceleratedX

Personally, I do think that "never installed by default, but available
(only) by a specific act of will" is a pretty good general policy.

Ubuntu launched at the same time a separate specification, Educating
Users about Binary Drivers, to "educate" new users about the problems of
proprietary drivers and make sure they're aware of what open source
alternatives exist: https://wiki.ubuntu.com/BinaryDriverEducation 
That is:  Ubuntu will pop up a "notification bubble" upon login if the
user is an administrative user (in /etc/sudoers) either it's your second
login, or your hardware is changed and the system's about to enable a
proprietary driver, or you're using a live CD.

Bubble text:  

      To make this computer's ______ work properly, Ubuntu is using
      driver software that cannot be supported.

      To learn more, open the Device Manager.

      _Open Device Manager_

[Feisty+1's] Device Manager will be set to display proprietary drivers
in a separate section from the others, with an explanation in the "main
pane" for that section similar to the above bubble text.

On balance, I strongly suspect the Educating Users specification
embodies a common type of self-delusion within Ubuntu:  Developers feel
that they've thereby done the right thing because they're _educating_
newcomers about open source -- even though they know in their hearts
that users overwhelmingly don't bother to read or understand pop-up
"advisories" to any degree greater than is required to make them go
away, that users overwhelmingly don't act on "advisories" if they _do_
read them, and that by and large users just accept all defaults, having
been trained to do so.  Thus, defaults are really the important part:
The other stuff is trivia designed (in part) to make developers and
community observers feel better -- a plastic consolation prize.

> I personally will tolerate a little non-free in my distro if I have to
> (and that's usually on laptops) but I'm always looking to / working
> toward Free alternatives, both for the moral (a la FSF) and for the
> practical long term (a la OSI).

I wish people would not so readily, by implication or otherwise, say
OSI's position isn't grounded in morals.  I personal tend to judge
people by what they do, not just by the colour of their rhetoric.

[1] Aside from firmware images included in the upstream Linux kernel.

Rick Moen                            Recidite, plebes!  Gero rem Imperialem!
rick at linuxmafia.com

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